In Newton’s mechanical view of the cosmos, the universe is thought of in terms of particles whose behavior can be known and predicted at any moment in time. It’s like balls on a pool table: If we have the information that describes the force of a ball as it strikes another (speed, angle, and so on), then we should be able to predict where and how the one that has been struck will travel. And if it should hit other balls in its journey, we’ll know where and how fast they’re traveling as well. The key here is that the mechanical view of the universe sees the smallest units of the stuff our world is made of as things.
To give a flavor for how the power of intention is being studied in the laboratory, let’s briefly consider two experiments recently conducted at IONS. The first explored the quantum observer effect – modern physics’ “skeleton in the closet” suggesting that consciousness is inextricably wound into the fabric of reality.
Experienced meditators and nonmeditators were asked to imagine that they could intuitively perceive a low-intensity laser beam in a distant, shielded Michelson interferometer. If such nonlocal observation were possible, it would theoretically “collapse” the photons’ quantum wave-functions and change the pattern of light produced by the interferometer.
Few topics generate more false confidence or genuine bewilderment than the nature of consciousness. At scientific conferences, debates about the origins of consciousness – especially the purposeful, intentional aspects of consciousness – resemble professional wrestling matches more than sober academic affairs. Skeptics hold meetings where they fervently reinforce their belief that intentions (like consciousness) are mere illusions manufactured by the brain. Popular books and movies promoting the power of intention, such as The Secret, are runaway bestsellers.
Having a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing sounds easy until you think about how much conditioning has taken place in your life, and how many of your current thoughts were influenced by geography, the religious beliefs of your ancestors, the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes, the political orientation of your parents, your size, your gender, the schools that were selected for you, and the vocation of your great-grandparents, to list only some possibilities.
You showed up here as a tiny infant capable of an infinite number of potentialities. Many of your choices remain unexplored because of a hopefully well-intentioned conditioning program designed to make you fit the culture of your caretakers. You probably had next to no opportunity to disagree with the cultural and societal arrangements made for your life.